Talking to High Monks in the Snow

Born in Albany to Japanese immigrants, Minatoya did not meet an Asian American not related to her until she was in her twenties. After earning a doctorate in psychology, she accepts a position at a university in Boston. However, she finds Boston dispiriting and teaching a disaster. When she loses her job, Minatoya travels west, to her Oriental roots. She works in Japan and China and travels in Nepal, returning to the United States with the kind of sentimental education that young Englishmen used to seek by touring Europe.

“I went because I am an American,” explains the author. “Like our immigrant ancestors, I was seeking in a new land, some shining future.” She makes contact with her parents’ families, proud scions of samurai clans, and discovers not only ties that bind but also a cultural chasm as wide as the Pacific. In China, she is rejuvenated by her eager students. In the mountains of Nepal, she learns the value of receptivity. Even when recounting anti-Asian prejudice, Minatoya is a narrator whose generosity of spirit has purged the bitterness.

“I am a woman caught between standards of East and West,” declares Minatoya, in a mellow voice that belies the strain. Her Japanese heritage enforces restraint, what she calls “the pull to be deferent.” But she is also made of Yankee brashness—“the push to be bold.” Push comes to pull in TALKING TO HIGH MONKS IN THE SNOW, the account of a spunky young woman’s quest for adventure, often in defiance of cultural conventions, but it does so in a style that is coy and delicate. Minatoya is a reticent autobiographer, one who is silent about her college years, laconic about her family’s experiences in the World War II relocation camps, and oblique about her marriage. Hers is a gentle work of understated wisdom, a subtle lesson in how to listen to high monks and the snow.